Current Affairs

Remembering Nick Bucci on World AIDS Day

Precipitation

That spring, a cold one, not enough
years later,
the trees bloomed on St. Mark's
like reborn, slumming angels,
petals blowing in drifts
like the snow we never had that winter,
like the year before
         and the year before
and the year you died
when I could not see them
for what they were.

Your ashes, long scattered,
carried by soles and skin and air
through the five boroughs, Times Square,
the summer fire updrafts of L.A.,
ride the high atmospheric winds
across the world on new wings
or form the core of raindrops, ice crystals, cloud.

Outside: a warm October drizzle,
the leaves
just tinged with color, impossible
to think that it would ever snow
again,
that you would ever become
just a memory,
a film of dust, rain-streaked.



© Lee Kottner 2010


Dangerous Weirdness in Small-Town Mississippi

RadicalMoi I have a bunch of internet-only friends from my fanfic activities, and one of the things I love about them is that they will often do shit for each other that your local friends can't: start huge fund drives to help pay your rent or medical bills, or spread the word that something scary and dangerous is going on in your life that you can't fix and need help with. That's what this post is. I'm blogging about this situation in the hopes that if the word gets out everywhere, it will help protect the family involved. Caveat: this is a friend of friends, but to me, this sounds like way more than somebody just looking for attention. In a nutshell, here's the story. (And here it is in full, from the horse's mouth.)

Next door neighbors of Friend of Friends (FOF) show a sudden spate of late-night activity at a previously abandoned trailer that abuts FOF's property, accompanied by mysterious break-ins of FOF's house (some while she's in the house with her children), threats from local deputy (neighbor's nephew), strange phone messages, reporting of FOF to the local Child Protection Services (investigator is neighbor's relative) and an obvious effort to get FOF and her family out of their house, in which they've lived for 14 years. Move is in the works, but they have special requirements (they have livestock), so it's not going quickly. Meanwhile, the threatening behavior and harassment continues; no local lawyer will help them. County Attorney will not return their calls. This screams meth lab or local militia or some other kind of illicit activity to me.

FOF is now so scared that she's publishing her address on her LJ and asking others to do the same:

I currently live at

591 Hwy 41 E
Okolona, MS 38860

Catherine Young's old trailer is next door.

Someone probably thinks i saw something or someone over there I should not have.  Having me committed would discredit me as a witness.  Please circulate this post.

Pass this on to any contacts you may have at news outlets or federal law enforcement. Other friends have advised her to set up some surveillance via webcam (her phone and internet have both been sporadically cut at the relay), take photos and make copies of everything, including answering machine tapes (one has already been erased in another break-in, but there are other copies off-site), all of which she's doing. 


Year Nine: The Best Thing We Can Do

9-11Moi
is go on,
perhaps not just as we were
but remembering
all the fallen
and who they loved,
not just the heroes,
because there are no heroes
without those
in need of rescue,
and all of them
are sacred:
just ordinary people
until that moment.

So much of that
is chance:
Get up ten minutes late
and the maelstrom
passes over—
as though there were blood
on your doorposts—
but wipes out your
job, your company,
your colleagues, strangers,
everyone
more punctual than you.
Where you might have stood
the air fills with the dust
of the dead and destroyed,
crystalline and ash at once,
poisoning the future.

Who you pray to
if  you pray
did not protect you.
The flames that descended
from heaven that day
were not holy, but
made by someone
who just wants to watch
the world burn.

–Sept. 11, 2010, Da Bronx

© Lee Kottner, 2010


sexist self-righteousness a la mode

HotheadP Warning: just venting. Nothing really constructive here. Today in sexist self-righteousness, from the NY Times Ethicist column:

Our small nonprofit, the Opportunity Fund for Developing Countries, offers scholarships to African boys and girls who agree to keep up their grades, stay out of trouble and refrain from pregnancy. When a 20-year-old orphan we’ve supported for many years had a baby, we revoked her scholarship. (Significantly, we have never dropped a male’s scholarship for impregnating a female.) [Emphasis mine] Now she wants to return to school. We’d like to readmit her to our program, but won’t that set a precedent? DEB DAY OLIVIER, SALT LAKE CITY

To restore this girl’s scholarship may well set a precedent, and I think it should. As you seem to realize, to apply this rule only to one sex is strikingly unfair and violates your own agreement with the students. What’s needed is a new policy, one with a better response to young people’s lives than “just say no babies.”

By definition, nobody welcomes an unwanted pregnancy. As Cynthia Lloyd, an authority on population and education issues and a lead author of the book “Growing Up Global: The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries,” put it in an e-mail exchange, “Obviously in Africa, many young women who get pregnant have not necessarily made that choice willingly or with any control.” I admire your wish to help these students avoid obstacles to education, like too-early parenthood, but I admire even more your reluctance to let an imperfect policy inflexibly applied thwart a young woman’s desire for an education and a better life.

What form should that new policy take? Here I defer to educators and experts in family planning. Lloyd suggests one that you might consult: Codou Diaw, executive director of the Forum for African Women Educationalists, an N.G.O. operating throughout the continent from its headquarters in Nairobi.

When you restore this girl’s scholarship, as I hope you will, you can announce your intention to change course. It is commendable to gauge how effectively your policies serve your ends, and to amend or abandon those that are ineffectual.

UPDATE: Olivier told me by e-mail that they did not continue this girl’s scholarship but that she may reapply next year.

Fail. Fail. Fail.

Abstinence_by_jaig_1_ Not only the part about dropping this young woman's scholarship without considering how she got pregnant, whether she had access to birth control, or if she even wanted to get pregnant, but big ol' FAIL for never dropping a young man's scholarship for impregnating another young woman. Because, in case you hadn't noticed, it takes two people to get pregnant. If you are trying to enforce an abstinence only policy (which is what sounds like is going on here), then everybody has to abstain and everybody gets the same penalty. Not that I think abstinence only is a useful policy, but why punish only women for failing at the unworkable? If it's wrong to get pregnant, it's wrong to make someone pregnant too.

Beyond that, to enforce that policy on a 20 year old adult is completely unrealistic and unethical in itself, especially without offering alternatives. According to their own annual report, this organization provides no access to birth control, only HIV/AIDS "training," which I would bet consists of saying "don't have sex; you'll get HIV." If you don't want young women getting pregnant, it's a proven fact that just saying no doesn't work, especially in poor countries where women have fewer rights and resources than they do here. Not addressing the facts of violence (and just plain ol biological imperatives), and condemning women alone for the outcome is the worst kind of self-righteousness: do as I say, not as I do. Make my dogma work without the resources I have access to. It absolves men from taking responsibility for their own actions while condemning women, often, for being victims of male violence and at the least, of male irresponsibility. Why do people not get this?

I know: because it serves the patriarchy not to. But it particularly irks me when women don't get it and bind each other's feet.


Letter to the President: Torture

RadicalMoi Got my activist on and decided to write another letter to President Obama. It's so funny; I'm turning into my dad, who was a great writer of letters to politicians, newspaper editors, and other public figures he didn't agree with. It seems to be a Kottner trait; my grandmother did it too.

Here's a draft of my latest missive. I'm going to let it sit a couple of days before I send it, so any comments, typo spotting, corrections, suggestions, welcome.

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

20 April, 2009

Dear President Obama,

I’m a teacher, poet and artist living in New York City. I have been a disinterested non-voter for most of my life, but President Bush’s policies and actions—and your candidacy—galvanized me and changed my world-view. I’m writing first to thank you for the increased transparency you’ve brought to our government since taking office, and for striving to keep so many of your campaign promises. I applaud you especially for making the commitment to closing the unlawful prison at Guantanamo Bay. Since voting for you in the last national election, I’ve become increasingly involved in political and human rights activism, and I thank you also for that inspiration.

Which is why I’m also writing you today to ask you to reconsider your stance on forming a Truth Commission and the prosecution of interrogators who practiced and condoned waterboarding and other forms of torture under the aegis of the CIA and the Justice Department’s Orwellian definitions. I’m sure you’ve heard these arguments before, but I think it’s important that you know they’re also coming from some of the ordinary citizens who voted and campaigned for you, because we saw you as a new broom. I’m also writing to you because I need to be able to say I’ve done as much as I can to put an end to a practice which places the country I am a voting citizen of in the same category as benighted, tyrannical regimes.

I agree with you that this is a divisive issue, and I understand and sympathize with your desire not to create more divisions in this country. But I think it’s important to make a distinction between merely bowing to the demands of a group of people who have been newly restored to power and doing the right thing. If we deny our wrongdoing, that allows these wounds to fester. Witness the ill feelings regarding the denial of a Turkish massacre of Armenians just after World War I, and the Japanese denial of the enslavement of Korean women during World War II, for example. That denial thwarts the efficacy of diplomacy on many levels, as well as presenting a barrier to the social and political growth of the deniers. The Allies were able to bring the perpetrators of Nazi genocide and torture and Japanese atrocities to justice because Germany and Japan were conquered and occupied nations. Because we have no such pressure on us, it is even more imperative that we take steps to right our own wrongs and do so publically. Politically mature nations, like mature individuals, are able to admit their wrongs, take the consequences, and move on. South Africa has set a clear example in this area with its apartheid truth commission. It’s not a simple solution or an easy one, but it’s a necessary one, for a number of reasons.

Torture is one of the most heinous violations of human rights, whether it involves waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, threats of rape or bodily harm, or fear for one’s life. Laws against intentionally harming a fellow human being are part and parcel of every civilized legal code on the planet. The difference between assault and torture is merely one of nomenclature and alleged purpose. Any argument of a real distinction between the two acts is sophistry, especially in light of the fact that torture produces so little—if any—useful information. As cartoonist Gary Trudeau pointed out in one of his Bush-era strips, it “used to be a given” that the U.S. did not torture its prisoners. We’ve lost the benefit of that moral high ground now. Sweeping the wrongdoing under the rug will not help us regain it.

A country which allows its agents to practice torture has no credibility in the world at large when it comes to speaking of human rights. How can we pressure countries like China to treat their prisoners humanely when torture is a part of our own repertoire? How can we condemn countries like Syria for their treatment of prisoners if we’re using them to do our dirty work? Hypocrisy like this taints everything we do on the world stage. If the U.S. is to be a true leader, we must face our errors, punish those responsible for them, and clean house. If we can’t clean our own house, Mr. President, we can’t ask others to do the same.

As signatories to the Geneva Conventions, this nation is bound by law to prosecute those officials who violate it. Article 131 says, “No High Contracting Party shall be allowed to absolve itself or any other High Contracting Party of any liability incurred by itself or by another High Contracting Party in respect of breaches referred to in the preceding Article.” We have clearly breached the rights of prisoners not to be tortured; prosecution of those responsible must follow if the rule of law is to be respected. In this country, without the rule of law, our experiment in democracy means nothing.

Finally, I know I don’t need to speak of the danger our policy of torturing prisoners places our troops in, but I will. My father, who died in 2005, was a WWII Army Air Corps, and later Air Force, veteran who was appalled by the existence of Guantanamo and the treatment the prisoners were subjected to. More than once, he told me this was not what he fought that war for. We need to repudiate that policy as strongly as possible to help ensure the humane treatment of our captured troops, as well as the humane treatment of everyone who comes to our shores. That sense of fairness was what my dad fought for.

For decades, the fact that American law, political philosophy, and foreign policy worked fairly well and were grounded in a strong sense of right and wrong allowed me to go along my complacent, non-involved way, confident that I lived in one of the best countries in the world. The Bush era’s egregious violations of the Constitution and American civil rights changed all that, so perhaps it wasn’t all bad in some senses. Now that our economy is struggling from unregulated greed, 48 million of us suffer from economic apartheid in health care, and our freedoms have been underhandedly undermined by the very people who are supposed to protect them, I can’t let myself stand by without saying something. I won’t ever be that complacent again, but I would like to regain that sense of confidence in the country I live in.

This is a long letter, and I’m not sure it will even reach you, Mr. President, through no fault of your own. But someone in your administration will read it and, I hope, pass on my sentiments, if not my letter, to you. I also know I’m not telling you anything new. You know these arguments, and you seem to me to be a reasonable, careful, and also moral person. I hope you will consider my words not as criticism, but as a call to action, the same call you gave that resounded in me. Thank you once again for the opportunity to express my views, and for doing the many good things you’ve already done.

Yours respectfully,

Etc.


corporate censorship

Rar!Moi In case you were under a rock or celebrating Easter or something today, and haven't heard about the AmazonFail brouhaha, here's what they're up to: Amazon has, ostensibly for the sake of their readers delicate constitutions, decided to strip the rankings from pretty much any book that has to do with anything related to the LGBT community, everything from textbooks to literature to scientific studies, whether those books include explicit descriptions of homosexual acts or not. This prevents those books from showing up in general searches and will ultimately hurt their sales figures. You know, the harder stuff is to find, the less likely people are to buy it? That kind of logic.

According to Mark Probst, who first noticed this a couple of days ago, and wrote to Amazon about it, a spokesperson from Amazon explained it this way:

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude "adult" material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

Among the books being stripped of their sales ranks and obscured in the search function are notable classics like James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, Rita Mae Brown's Rubyfruit Jungle, E.M. Forester's Maurice, Edmund White's A Boy's Own Story, and Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, all of which I've read in English classes at some point. Oddly enough, both Lady Chatterley's Lover and Lolita have retained their sales ranks (Lolita is up around 2,000). Also stripped of their rankings are Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain and Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Even Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity has had its ranking stripped.

If you're unclear about what this means, go to Amazon and search books for "homosexuality." You'll notice that what comes up are largely Christian screeds against it, written by straight people, even when you click on "Gay and Lesbian" in the side search tabs. This made me feel physically sick. How awful to have decades of writing just erased from public viewing. I can only image how my LGBT friends feel watching their literature, history, and scientific studies disappear virtually overnight. This is censorship of the worst kind, and a really vile form of bigotry.

Horror aside, one of the interesting things about this event was how quickly it exploded onto the net. I saw a note about it from Charlie Anders of io9 over on Facebook this afternoon, toddled over to sign the petition after doing a little confirming research, and by 9:00 pm, it was racing across Twitter, LJ, and the blogs like wildfire. The Google search results went from two pages to 13.

So I'm urging you to boycott Amazon until they stop with censorship crap. Over at Publishing Talk, there's an excellent, excoriating open letter to Jeff Bezos, written with the kind of gentle viciousness the British do so well. There are Google bombs on the words "Amazon ranks" spreading (look! here's one now!), and numerous petitions. You can call Amazon's customer service: 1-866-216-1072 or if you're feeling particularly frisky, their board of directors. In the meantime, fuck 'em. Get your books from Powell's instead.

UPDATE: This is hitting the mainstream press now, with "Publisher's Weekly" and Salon reporting Amazon claims it's "just a glitch," which still does not explain Probst's and others reply from customer service, or the fact that this started several days ago. There's an interesting theory at the LJ of former SixApart employee who was around for the Great Strikethrough on LJ. He thinks is a trolling campaign. I'm reserving judgment. My natural suspicion makes me think that Amazon is just covering their ass with the "glitch" statement. I'd be pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

UPDATE 2: More information and sleuthing at Dear Author, which definitely makes it appear far more deliberate than glitchy. The evidence deals with the metadata entered by both publishers and Amazon and a filter applied to that data: "It appears that all the content that was filtered out had either “gay”,  ”lesbian”,  ”transgender”, “erotic”  or “sex” metadata categories.  Playboy Centerfold books were categorized as “nude” and “erotic photography”, both categories that apparently weren’t included in the filter." *rolls eyes*

FINAL UPDATE:So the word is out it was some Amazon employee in France who "broke" the system by flipping a database flag from false to true. Even if this was not a policy change, Amazon's PR needed to make that clear a lot sooner than they have (there's still no official statement, more than 4 days after this started happening). When the literature of an oppressed minority group starts to disappear without explanation, it makes people testy. And isn't spin control what PR people get paid for? Where are they? Where, for that matter, is Amazon's official explanation?

So did we all over-react? I don't think so. I think it's obvious that, thanks to the vocal activists in various movements, none of us have a real sense of trust in corporate America, or, after the last eight years, in the stability of our rights. I think it was heartening to see how fast the response moved, how vocal it was, and how much it seems to have freaked out a large corporate entity. I feel a little like the girl at the end of "V for Vendetta," taking off my Guy Fawkes mask.

If this were a real emergency . . .


verbing the teabag, or, more evidence the Republicans are clueless

LibrarianG Slang. Lord, I love it.

English users love to make verbs out of nouns: Impact. Sandbag. Gaslight. And now: teabag. Actually, this one has been around for a while, if not in general usage, since it's a little risque. And that is why it's good to stay current, to keep up with slang. YOu don't have to like it and you don't have to use it, but a little knowledge keeps one from looking like a complete, utter fool. It's not that hard. Just a little research goes a long way. Google. Wikipedia, even.

In this particular case, the irony quotient is just too high to pass up, as it was for Rachel Maddow. It's almost as if there were a mole planted in the Republicans' planning committee. If so, it's the best bit of sabotage I've seen in ages. You can hardly blame her for being on the verge of losing it, with or without the help of her offstage colleagues guffawing in the background. And I must say, this is one of the best use of, ahem, innuendo (no pun intended) that I've ever seen. There's nothing the censors would have found objectionable, but if you understand what the term means in its slang form, the implications are hilarious, and amazingly insulting, considering what a bunch of hypocritical prudes Republicans tend to be. It's genius.



a little activism

NYCMoi Okay, I've had enough. Here's what I sent off to my state senator and to the senator representing most of my students at CNR and here are their email addresses if you'd like to do the same:
diaz@senate.state.ny.us
and
serrano@senate.state.ny.us.
You can find your senator here.

Dear Senators Diaz and Serrano,

I'm currently an adjunct professor at the College of New Rochelle's South Bronx Campus. I live in Parkchester and commute by bus or subway three or four times a week to the campus at 149th Street and 3rd Avenue in the Bronx. I'm writing to you both about the looming MTA fare hike, but not just because it will increase my costs in the face of the meager pay that adjuncts make. I'm writing you both on behalf of my students, who live in your districts.

Many of my students are on public assistance. Some of them have overcome enormous obstacles to attend college: abusive relationships, drug addiction, extreme poverty, homelessness, alcoholism, AIDS, deaths in their families. Many of them are still confronted with these problems and keep coming to school anyway, because they know getting an education is a stepping stone to a better life. The thing that impresses me most about my students is their deep desire to improve themselves, to become contributing members of society, rather than victims of circumstance. They work so hard, juggling exhausting, low-paying work, the demands of children, and their school work. I admire them immensely.

Many of our college's classes meet once a week to minimize the amount students have to spend on transportation. If the MTA raises their fare as much as threatened, a large number of my students will not be able to afford to make the trip to school even once a week. This will short-circuit innumerable efforts by hard-working people to make something of themselves. The working poor have enough obstacles in their way. Please work with your fellow senators to keep the MTA fare hike from being another one. This is no time for dithering. Peoples' dreams are in your hands.

Yours sincerely,

Ann E. Kottner


poem a day: #6

BNFMoi I'm sort of cheating on this one because I actually wrote it last week just after Natasha Richardson's funeral. I was thinking then about how hard it is to come back to the empty house. I remember how awful it was after Dad died and Mom was already gone, and I was alone in a house that used to hold three people and snotty cat. At least Liam has his boys, which is both worse and better. Anyway, the prompt today was to write about what's missing, and this was far better than what I actually wrote. I found it in my teaching notebook when I was rewriting what I started this morning and I decided to swap them out, because this is actually a good poem, and still pretty new.

    After They’re Buried

The worst is when it’s over
and everyone else
goes home,
leaving you
with what’s
missing,
an absence, a lack:
one less
place at the table,
the vast space
in your bed.

Worse still, the superfluities—
the extra chair,
clothing you can’t wear,
books you would never read,
the hole filled in
with dirt, mounded up,
the urn heavy with ash.
And the undiminishing echo
of blood rushing
or spilled or, finally,
stopped.

© Lee Kottner, 2009


Hard Times

Depressed Moi A little story from the train that bears recording:

I took the No. 6 down to 86th St. to go to Staples for new toner and paper around noon today. The car was pretty empty; there were four or five of us: me, a middle aged Hispanic man, a youngish black woman, and across from me, a late middle aged white businessman with short hair, a dark suit, a long, black wool coat and a briefcase, nice looking but with a sad face. Around 116th a young couple got on with their chubby-faced little boy in a stroller. Dad was in scuffed Timberlands that looked like they'd been on a construction site, jeans, a light jacket. Mom was in jeans and boots too, and just a long-sleeved T-shirt, though their son was bundled up well. He started the pitch: they'd lost their house, he'd lost his job, couldn't get public assistance yet, never thought they'd be living in a shelter. He wanted work and a chance to go to college and instead they were asking for anything we could give them. It wasn't like the usual pitches. These two people were proud and embarrassed to be asking for money. Every single person in the car gave them something, including me. Afterwards, we all kind of looked at each other in a way New Yorkers on a train normally don't, shaking our heads, eyes a little too bright. The guy across from me in the suit really looked stricken and muttered something that sounded sympathetic and disgusted, not with them but with the situation. He'd given them several dollars.

Four people I know have lost jobs within the past couple of weeks. Another friend just lost one today. The safety net is frayed. And a neocon on Facebook tells me that capping the salaries of financial moguls whose companies take bailout money will somehow only hurt the economy more. All I can think is that those fuckers are lucky they still have jobs and it'll do their kids good to endure a couple of years in a public school and miss their skiing vacations. Let them sell their country houses.

Eat the rich, baby.


it's a beautiful day . . .

DreamingMoiI've always watched politics from a distance, convinced for a very long time that "it does not belong to man even to direct his own steps." Even in that distance though, the historian in me has watched the patterns develop with interest and horror, and the humanist in me has simmered in silent outrage at the amount of injustice in the world. Now, the possibility of God stepping in and not only saving us from ourselves but making us perfect seems far less likely to me, like a fairy tale of the Golden Age. I can thank George Bush for this, and George Orwell for that reconsideration. George B. scared the shit out of me and George O. taught me how to parse the propaganda. I don't think I've ever been as frightened by my own government as I was by the Bush years, and now that he and his cronies have brought us to the brink of collapse and disgrace as a nation by sewing hatred and fear and repression while raping and pillaging their own economic system, I'm deeply relieved to see someone with some vision and human decency at the helm. I'm glad I helped put him there. I'm glad I'm not on the sidelines anymore.

As a consequence, I feel like this is one of those days that everything should have ground to a halt for at least a couple of hours to observe the momentous shifting paradigm, at least in this country. I don't know about anyone else, but I feel like I can breathe again, like it might be possible to read the news and not be embarrassed and horrified and full of rage at the things my tax dollars are doing and at the perfidy of the people whose salaries they're helping to pay. However badly this incoming government fucks up, it won't be anywhere near the disaster for human rights, civil rights, science, the environment, and its own citizens that the outgoing one was. I'm not a nationalist, but I know that I live in one of the most powerful and influential countries in the world, and as a citizen, I'd like to not be ashamed and appalled by what it does on the world stage. You know, "with great power comes great responsibility" and all that. As one of my other friends said on her own blog, Obama's government can't possibly live up to the hype it's generated, but it will still be a far cry better than what we've had, simply by trying to. What a relief to have an intelligent, articulate, compassionate humanist in charge!

And what a pleasure to see somebody who's not white in the job! What a triumph for people of color everywhere in this country. I can't imagine what it must be like to have put up with the kind of shit they've put up with for the entire history of this country to finally see a reflection of themselves in the highest office, leading without rancor. Somewhere, Martin Luther King, Jr., is smiling. I hope this is the first step in learning to play nice with each other in the sandbox, because let's be real: this isn't anything but a beginning. It's not the end of racism just because a black man has been voted into the White House. But I think it's a hopeful indicator of a change in attitude. One of my students sent me (and a bunch of her friends) a text message today that said, "Do you know why there's a chill outside? Because people said it would be a cold day in hell before a black man became president. Bundle up, bitches." The note of glee and triumph was unmistakable. And how can I blame her for gloating? It is, after all, about damn time. 

It's about damn time that people in this country started to live up to the first lines of our Constitution, which, even though it was written in an era where people had slaves, offers a paradigm for equality that we should continue to strive for.  Because if not us, when it's written into the philosophy of our government, then who? And why not us? Why not now? Or as the new President said in his speech today, "because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace." (And isn't his rhetoric beautiful? Was that him or his speechwriter?)

It's about damn time we all start to realize that race, culture, gender, faith, language, or any of the other ways we seem different from one another really don't matter, that those differences are superficial at best, that it's fear that estranges us from one another, not anything real. Fear of the other, fear of something different, and an inability to accept another viewpoint not our own and let it co-exist.

Of all the things Obama said in his speech, this lightens my heart the most:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

And the reason it does is that I know that no one can save us from ourselves but ourselves. So somebody has to get in front and show us how. I think Obama can. I think, if our best instincts are roused by a great leader, that we can save ourselves. Yes we can.


thought for the day

Badgirl Moi I thought maybe I'd start sharing some of my favorite quotations. I've amassed quite a few and what's the point if I don't share them? So probably once a week or so, I'll drop one of these in here. I'm sort of working my way backwards on the list, as this is one of the most recent ones, which I've taken from Neal Stephenson's most recent novel Anathem, strangely appropriate to the present economy:

Fraa Erasmus (a cosmologist): "I always tend to assume there's an infinite amount of money out there."

"There might as well be," [Fraa] Arsibalt said, "but most of it gets spent on pornography, sugar water, and bombs."


Ouch.


Grudge Match: NYTBR vs. WRB

LibraryMoi I've gone on here and in other places about how badly the New York Times Book Review and the reviewing establishment in general ignores books by women and women's opinions on books. With book reviewing on the wane (hell, books are on the wane), it's hard to find a good source of book reviews that doesn't entail subscribing to a number of different journals and blogs. I'm terminally fed up with the Times, and yet I keep going back to it because there's so little else. In desperation, I subscribed to Book Forum, which I like, but which is also heavily skewed toward art and academics. Not that I've got anything against either art or academic books, but I'm a writer, among other things, and I want to read about fiction and history and poetry and biography and okay, yeah, some politics for general readers. There are still some of us, yanno, who actually read books.

Today, like the infamous dog returning to its vomit, I glanced over the Times list of the year's ten best books, which is a dubious proposition anyway. I mean, ten best book for whom? Never mind in whose opinion. How many women made the cut? Three. Four (see comments below). Oh so predictably, two in fiction, one in non-fiction: Toni Morrison for A Mercy and Jhumpa Lahiri for Unaccustomed Earth (excellent writers both); Jane Meyer for The Dark Side:The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals. I'm a fan of both Morrison and Lahiri and happy to see them on the list. Would one more women author have killed them? Like, oh, Marilynne Robinson's Home? or Louise Erdrich's The Plague of Doves? Jane Meyer's investigative reporting on the Bush administration's adoption of horrific policies like sanctioned torture, suspension of habeas corpus, and extraordinary rendition is a great piece of work and belongs on the list. But instead of, say, honoring yet another book about the Civil War (it's OVER, people; quit fighting it), it would have been nice to showcase, for example, Joanna Bourke's Rape: Sex, Violence, History, given the continuing conditions in Darfur and the widespread use of rape as a tactic of war in Africa.

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Proposition 8 and the discriminatory nature of marriage

RadicalmoiThere are protests nationwide today against California's passage of their Proposition 8, banning gay marriage. Instead of marching, I'm blogging (because it's pouring rain here). I am repeatedly boggled by the need of human beings to deny others their humanity, when those Others have done nothing to directly harm those who would classify them as subhuman. This was the cornerstone of slavery in this country (slaves counted as only 3/5 of a person); of denying both African Americans and women voting privileges; and now of denying gays the right to marry. In a word (or acronym): WTF?

Gw150h150 The argument that two people of the same sex marrying somehow harms the "sanctity of marriage" between two people of the opposite sex is completely illogical, as Spock might say. I'd like to see a demonstration of what this harm is. Does it prevent opposite sex couples from obtaining marriage licenses? No. Does it prevent opposite sex couples from obtaining housing? No. Does it hinder them in exercising any of their already granted rights? No. It merely offends some of them. Too bad. I'm offended by bigoted people marrying and propagating their bigotry by teaching it to their children, but I'm not about to deny them the right to do so. Human rights don't work that way. Either we all get them, or none of us get them.

The idea that the marriage of two people of the same sex is somehow an aberration is also just patently false. Tufts University Historian Gary Leupp has a great capsulized refutation of this idea in an open letter he wrote to Governor Mitt Romney. Here's a little sample of it, with a bibliography:

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watching the world wake up from history

Presidents

The Wall Street Journal just called it. I'm a little giddy. Everybody in my neighborhood is too. Horns honking, shouting, music. Like New Year's. I suppose it is. At the very least, it is a new age. The unthinkable has happened. A liberal Black man is going to move into the White House. About damn time. Next, a woman. Then someone gay, until the only thing that matters is your qualifications and your vision.

History. Right here. Right now.

 


why I done it

911moiSo, I done it. Got up at 6 and headed downstairs and stood in line very briefly, had my spanking new voter registration verified, got in the booth and pulled the levers. I still have very little if any confidence in any of the politicians for whom I pulled those levers, but I'm willing to be pleasantly surprised. MUG Newsletter had a nice concise list of reasons to vote this morning called "Tro da Bums Out!" It's as good a set of reasons as any; here it is:

  • Iraq
  • The Economy
  • Katrina
  • Guantanamo
  • Renditions and Torture
  • Abandoning the Kyoto Treaty
  • The Patriot Act
  • Fighting the formation of the 9/11 Commission
  • Veteran Care at Walter Reed
  • U.S. Attorney Firings
  • Valerie Plame Outing
  • The National Debt
  • Ignoring Afghanistan, Israel-Palestine
  • Stem Cell Research
  • Darfur

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Day Late and Dollar Short

Confusedmoi Did nobody get the irony of this? Did no one step back and say, "wait a minute: haven't I seen this somewhere before? Didn't we get in trouble the last time we did this?" And didn't somebody think it was a little odd to be praying for money? Unless you're Cindy Jacobs, I guess. I suspect her stock portfolio has tanked in a big way and her broker needs an intervention. But, you know, the site is just a tad off, what with its association with, say, golden calves, Mammon, and other gods implicated in idolatry. Isn't there a commandment about this?

Bullprayer2 According to CBN, "Cindy is calling for a Day  of Prayer for the World’s Economies on Wednesday, October 29, 2008. They are calling for prayer for the stock markets, banks, and financial institutions of the world on the date the stock market crashed in 1929. They are meeting at the New York Stock Exchange, the Federal Reserve Bank, and its 12 principal branches around the US that day." Sez Ms. Jacobs:

“We are going to intercede at the site of the statue of the bull on Wall Street to ask God to begin a shift from the bull and bear markets to what we feel will be the 'Lion’s Market,' or God’s control over the economic systems,” she said.  “While we do not have the full revelation of all this will entail, we do know that without intercession, economies will crumble.”

Sheesh, nobody reads the Hebrew Scriptures anymore.


"If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people."

Radicalmoi This quotation is taken from former Labour MP and Cabinet Minister Tony Benn in Michael Moore's documentary "Sicko." It sums up the British rationale for creating a National Health Service after WWII. (See the clip below the cut.) I can't think of a better summation of the failures of the U.S. government over the past 20 years. If a society is judged by how it treats its weakest members, ours is failing.

Which is why, finally, I decided it's time to vote: Not because I actually trust politicians. Oh hell no. Or the political system either. But because I'm not afraid, not demoralized, not sick and I don't take orders very well. I am, however, very tired of the top 1% of this country calling the shots and crapping on the rest of us. When "trickle down" economics was first introduced, someone said "We all know what the only thing that trickles down is," and he was right. The poor and working class in this country have been steadily disenfranchised and stripped of their ability make a living, while the wealthy fail to pay their share of taxes and live off the backs of their workers and the spoils of deregulation, greed, and war. Do I sound like a Socialist? Get over it. We're actually allies of a number of socialists countries, and their systems work pretty well—actually better than ours in some cases. Socialism ≠ Communism. At least the socialist states aren't 29th in the infant mortality stats like we are.

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